May 20-26, 2013
PCT visits and reaches out to the bereaved family of fisherman Hung Shih-cheng
Reported by Simon Lin
Written by Lydia Ma
On May 14, PCT Seamen’s & Fishermen’s Service Center visited the home of Hung Shih-cheng, the fisherman killed aboard the fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing No.28, to express condolences to the Hung family on behalf of the PCT. The center’s director, Rev. Chuang Yueh-han travelled to Hung’s home in Liuqiu Island and brought a small solatium with him on behalf of the PCT to give to the family. The PCT General-Secretary-elect, Lyim Hong-tiong, also called the family that same day to express his condolences and his concern.
Hung Shih-cheng, a Taiwanese fisherman, was shot and killed on May 9 by Philippine coast guards in waters where Taiwan’s and Philippines’ exclusive economic zones overlap. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced 11 diplomatic, economic, and military sanctions against the Philippines on May 15. These sanctions were imposed in part due to the fact that, though Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino has issued an apology through a representative, he continues to maintain that the killing of Hung was “unintentional” and caused by Hung crossing a boundary illegally. Aquino claims that Hung’s fishing vessel had ignored warning shots and it had intentionally rammed the coast guard vessel, which forced Philippine authorities to open fire.
However, Taiwanese authorities have witness accounts and material evidence drawn from their own investigations into the matter to prove that the Philippine vessel had pursued the Taiwanese fishing vessel for more than 1 hour and it had also fired 52 bullets at the vessel. Because half of these bullets were directed at the boat’s cabin, Taiwanese authorities doubt that the killing of Hung was as unintentional as Philippine authorities claim. Furthermore, as the Philippine vessel is at least 6 times heavier than the Taiwanese fishing boat, it is unlikely that the Taiwanese fishing boat would intentionally ram the Philippine vessel.
Rev. Chuang Yueh-han told Taiwan Church News that Philippine authorities have detained, extorted, and fired at Taiwanese fishermen or fishing vessels in the past. He attributes these instances of conflict to the overlapping exclusive economic zones between Philippines and Taiwan and the Taiwanese government’s failure to protect the welfare of its fishermen. He underscored that though the mainstream media has reported at least 30 similar incidents in the past decade, if one were to include cases where the matter was settled privately, the actual number would increase to more than 100 cases.
Chuang said that governments rarely take initiative in investigating these incidents in the past because they prefer to save the hassle of doing so. However, based on first-hand reports from retired captains, Philippine coast guards do not behave as Japanese or American coast guards do. Usually, Japanese or American coast guards who come across intruders will first make sure whether a boundary was crossed, then they will investigate whether the intruding vessel has dumped any garbage or refuse oil or whether it has fished illegally. However, whenever Philippine coast guards stop a vessel, they don’t even bother to investigate these things as they are more interested in looting. Oftentimes, fishing boats are forced onto nearby islands and away from possible surveillance systems from higher up for the purpose of extortion.
Commenting on this case, Chuang said that the overlapping exclusive economic zone has been a point of contention for a long time. Philippine authorities claim that their economic zone to the north extends to the harbor in Taichung. If such claims were to be accepted, then, Taiwanese fishing vessels would be in trouble and liable for arrest as soon as they leave the docks of Donggang, which would be ridiculous. Chuang urged the governments of both countries not to dismiss this incident as an exceptional case, but rather, to use it as an occasion to sit down and negotiate fishing regulations so as to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
Liuqiu Presbyterian Church’s pastor, Rev. Huang Li-en said that he knows 2 families from his church that have lost a father and a son at sea many years ago. These people disappeared and they were never heard from again and their stories are but a few examples of tragic stories that have happened to families living in Liuqiu. He added that some of his church’s elders are relatives of the Hung family and his church will continue to reach out to this family.
Huang said that the South China Sea is a fiercely contested area between the US and China and churches don’t have any leverage in this matter. However, he hopes that through partnerships between churches in Taiwan and churches in the US and in the Philippines, the concerns of these churches can be heard in the halls of the government and thus prompt government leaders to do what is just so that the conflict between Taiwan and the Philippines can come to an end and fishermen from both sides can resume fishing and working in the South China Sea.
Huang added that the PCT’s Seamen’s & Fishermen’s Service Center will continue to stand in solidarity with the Hung family and encourage them as they grieve. Even as society will eventually move on to other things, the center will continue to accompany and reach out to this family with God’s words. Huang also said that the Hung family has stated that it will continue to fish for a living in the future.
PCT representatives visit the Hung family in Liuqiu to lend their support.
Photo provided by PCT Seamen’s & Fishermen’s Service Center.